Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations

'Neurologger' Reads Bird Brains In Flight

Date:
June 26, 2009
Source:
Cell Press
Summary:
Using a "neurologger" specially designed to record the brain activity of pigeons in flight, researchers have gained new insight into what goes through the birds' minds as they fly over familiar terrain. The study is the first to simultaneously record electrical brain activity integrated with large-scale navigational movements of free-flying birds, according to the researchers.

A flock of homing pigeon flying.
Credit: iStockphoto/Huiping Zhu

Using a "neurologger" specially designed to record the brain activity of pigeons in flight, researchers reporting online on June 25th in Current Biology, a Cell Press publication, have gained new insight into what goes through the birds' minds as they fly over familiar terrain.

Related Articles


The study is the first to simultaneously record electrical brain activity integrated with large-scale navigational movements of free-flying birds, according to the researchers.

"We've successfully applied electrophysiological methods, previously used for the investigation of brain functions in the lab, to a freely flying bird in nature," said Alexei Vyssotski of the University of Zurich. "The approach revealed places of interest for the pigeons and the pattern of their brain activation at such locations."

Homing pigeons are so named for their uncanny ability to find their way back home. Evidence suggests that the birds rely on the position of the sun, the Earth's magnetic field, and a keen sense of smell to guide their way, but the underlying sources for their remarkable navigational skill are still much debated.

Over familiar landscapes, pigeons also depend on visual cues to get around, earlier studies have shown. To learn more about how the birds respond to what they see in the current study, Vyssotski's team devised a miniature neurologger device, designed to record and store EEG signals. Those signals reflect the firing of neurons within the brain. Vyssotski said that a recording session with the device, which weighs a mere two grams, can last up to several days, during which time the birds' flight paths were also tracked with GPS.

The researchers got some baseline information by recording the brain activity of birds in the lab and of birds flying over the relatively featureless open sea. They then followed pigeons donning the neurologgers as they flew over a landscape including familiar and other relevant landmarks.

When pigeons pass over visual landmarks, their brains show a bi-phase activation pattern, consisting of high-frequency oscillations followed by middle-frequency activity, they report. "The middle-frequency activity was the most reliable indicator of visual stimulation," Vyssotski said. "When a pigeon looked at something with attention, this activity increased."

High-frequency brain waves showed an even more intriguing pattern, he said. That kind of activity seemed to reflect the birds' flight history and their recognition of places they had visited before. "In other words, activation of these oscillations may be associated with some memory processing or some other high-level brain functions."

Interestingly, the brain recordings revealed that the pigeons took unusual interest in a couple of locations that did not seem to be relevant to finding their way home. Upon further investigation, the researchers discovered a farm and cattle paddock in one of those spots, and in the second case, a nearby barn. The "riddle" was solved by visiting those places, Vyssotski said. Both harbored colonies of feral pigeons, lending them special significance for the birds.

The same technique could be used to elucidate places of importance to other species in their natural environments, the researchers said, and for understanding the patterns of brain activity associated with such locations. In so doing, this line of research "can help to understand how the [animal] brain operates in the real world."

The researchers include Alexei L. Vyssotski, University of Zurich, Zurich, Switzerland; Giacomo Dell'Omo, University of Zurich, Zurich, Switzerland; Gaia Dell'Ariccia, University of Zurich, Zurich, Switzerland; Andrei N. Abramchuk, Moscow Institute of Electronic Technology, Zelenograd, Russia; Andrei N. Serkov, University of Zurich, Zurich, Switzerland, Moscow State University, Moscow, Russia; Alexander V. Latanov, Moscow State University, Moscow, Russia; Alberto Loizzo, Istituto Superiore di Sanita, Rome, Italy; David P. Wolfer, University of Zurich, Zurich, Switzerland, ETH Zurich, Zurich, Switzerland; and Hans-Peter Lipp, University of Zurich, Zurich, Switzerland.


Story Source:

The above story is based on materials provided by Cell Press. Note: Materials may be edited for content and length.


Cite This Page:

Cell Press. "'Neurologger' Reads Bird Brains In Flight." ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 26 June 2009. <www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2009/06/090625133057.htm>.
Cell Press. (2009, June 26). 'Neurologger' Reads Bird Brains In Flight. ScienceDaily. Retrieved January 27, 2015 from www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2009/06/090625133057.htm
Cell Press. "'Neurologger' Reads Bird Brains In Flight." ScienceDaily. www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2009/06/090625133057.htm (accessed January 27, 2015).

Share This


More From ScienceDaily



More Plants & Animals News

Tuesday, January 27, 2015

Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations


Featured Videos

from AP, Reuters, AFP, and other news services

How To: Mixed Green Salad Topped With Camembert Cheese

How To: Mixed Green Salad Topped With Camembert Cheese

Rumble (Jan. 26, 2015) Learn how to make a mixed green salad topped with a pan-seared camembert cheese in only a minute! Music: Courtesy of Audio Network. Video provided by Rumble
Powered by NewsLook.com
Water Fleas Prepare for Space Voyage

Water Fleas Prepare for Space Voyage

Reuters - Innovations Video Online (Jan. 26, 2015) Scientists are preparing a group of water fleas for a unique voyage into space. The aquatic crustaceans, known as Daphnia, can be used as a miniature model for biomedical research, and their reproductive and swimming behaviour will be tested for signs of stress while on board the International Space Station. Jim Drury went to meet the team. Video provided by Reuters
Powered by NewsLook.com
Husky Puppy Plays With Ferret

Husky Puppy Plays With Ferret

Rumble (Jan. 26, 2015) It looks like this 2-month-old Husky puppy and the family ferret are going to be the best of friends. Look at how much fun they&apos;re having together! Credit to &apos;Vira&apos;. Video provided by Rumble
Powered by NewsLook.com
Scientists Model Flying, Walking Drone After Vampire Bats

Scientists Model Flying, Walking Drone After Vampire Bats

Buzz60 (Jan. 26, 2015) Swiss scientists build a new drone that can both fly and walk, modeling it after the movements of common vampire bats. Jen Markham (@jenmarkham) has the story. Video provided by Buzz60
Powered by NewsLook.com

Search ScienceDaily

Number of stories in archives: 140,361

Find with keyword(s):
Enter a keyword or phrase to search ScienceDaily for related topics and research stories.

Save/Print:
Share:

Breaking News:

Strange & Offbeat Stories


Plants & Animals

Earth & Climate

Fossils & Ruins

In Other News

... from NewsDaily.com

Science News

    Health News

      Environment News

        Technology News



          Save/Print:
          Share:

          Free Subscriptions


          Get the latest science news with ScienceDaily's free email newsletters, updated daily and weekly. Or view hourly updated newsfeeds in your RSS reader:

          Get Social & Mobile


          Keep up to date with the latest news from ScienceDaily via social networks and mobile apps:

          Have Feedback?


          Tell us what you think of ScienceDaily -- we welcome both positive and negative comments. Have any problems using the site? Questions?
          Mobile: iPhone Android Web
          Follow: Facebook Twitter Google+
          Subscribe: RSS Feeds Email Newsletters
          Latest Headlines Health & Medicine Mind & Brain Space & Time Matter & Energy Computers & Math Plants & Animals Earth & Climate Fossils & Ruins